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Why you should carry on and NOT stay calm

“I always act like an excited five year-old kid with severe ADD and a waddle at Disneyland.”–Chris Colfer (Kirk on Glee)

Happy weekend, my friends! I know it’s going to be the best one of your life.

I’m down to a couple weeks until my book deadline, so thought I’d post this excerpt from the new book on the importance of gratitude and living in joy.


Even though the British Ministry of Information never had to use the “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters they designed to boost morale during the Second World War (it was the third in a series, designated for use if the Germans invaded), its simple font and symbolic crown has been co-opted in literally thousands of posters, t-shirts, computer memes, ad naseum. I’ve spotted everything from Keep Calm and Smoke Pot or Eat Chocolate or Trust in Pope Francis to Panic Like Fuck and Shit Your Pants.

Turns out, this ubiquitous advice, even if had been posted in shop windows and at bus stops as were the first two in the series, is dead wrong. The better tact for dealing with life is to follow an old cheer my junior high squad used to repeat: “Get excited. Get, get excited.”

I admit this flies in the face of everything we’ve been taught. Stress, we’re told, is debilitating. It hurts your performance, impairs your ability to think. It’s the last thing you need when facing challenges.

Harvard Business School professor Alison Wood Brooks says this belief is nearly unanimous: 91 percent of the thousands she queried said that calming down is the best tact for dealing with high pressure situations.

What she discovered, however, is that it’s the associations we make with stress (calling it bad, fighting to get rid of it, feeling even more stressed that we’re feeling stressed) that are the real culprits.

In study after study, Brooks found that by using a simple switch in wording (using the phrase “I’m excited” as opposed to “I’m anxious”), her test subjects were able to outperform those who called their butterflies and sweaty palms “stress.” Those who said “I’m excited” not only began to feel excited, but they performed better on speeches, on tests, even singing karaoke. As much as 88 percent better.

The physiological state of anxiety and excitement are kissing cousins. Both emotional states come with racing heart, sweaty palms and high levels of the hormone cortisol.

But when you fight this automatic physical response, attempt to beat it into submission by breathing and pretending to “stay calm,” you actually defeat the purpose.

Why not flip the switch and welcome the physiological state, get pumped about the fact you’re doing something that excites the shit out of you?

Going from stress to calm is a big leap. But going from stress to excitement is….all together now….easy.

It lends proof to my theory that focusing on what is wrong (when so damned much is going right) is sheer insanity. If you call yourself stressed, you’re focusing on “what’s wrong.” You’re fighting your physiology.

If you say, “I’m excited,” you’re focusing on opportunities, you’re anticipating a better future.

And as Brooks proved, by focusing deliberately on potential positive outcomes, you’re way more likely to achieve them.

So I ask you, are you anxious or are you excited?

Pam Grout is the author of 17 books including E-Squared: 9 Do-it-Yourself Energy Experiments that Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality and the recently-released sequel, E-Cubed, 9 More Experiments that Prove Mirth, Magic and Merriment is your Full-time Gig.

29 Responses

  1. Hi Pam, great advice. Out of all the blogs I read and newsletters etc that get emailed to my inbox, yours is my favourite one. I always keep yours when I go through to delete the mass of messages I get daily. And I always take a few minutes out of my day to sit down and read yours because you give insightful thoughts about life. Thank you.

    1. This gave me goose bumps. This morning for the 1st time in my life I saw salt and pepper shakers with the motto “Keep Calm and Carry On” with the British Seal. I thought it quite unusual. Then to read this blog just a few hours later was so interesting.

  2. Um, Pam? I want your book to be right, so I’ll say it – I believe the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster was not for use if the Germans attacked the country, but for if the Germans ***invaded*** the country. That’s why the posters were not used.

  3. You are right. I tell my patients they are focusing on the questions revolving around their brains instead of the solutions. Focusing on calmness rather unsettling overwhelming thoughts is the best way. Thanks for saying it like it is.

    1. Yes, nothing wrong with calmness or any other state we’re in. But getting excited gets those molecules bouncing around. I like bouncing molecules.

    2. Sorry but she didn’t “say it like this”. You’re putting in her mouth words she didn’t say. It’s quite the other way round as she suggest not to try to be calm but to name stress as exitment.

  4. Perfect.. thank you Pam. I was anxious yesterday and deep breathing myself to oblivion – I could have jumped easily to excited. I am exciting now just knowing this! Here’s to the best weekend of our lives!!!

  5. I am super-excited! That is Amazingly Awesome advice, as usual, Pammy Sue! You always have the best ideas for how to twist any thought, feeling, or situation into something much more fun and productive. Have a glorious weekend, and I CANNOT WAIT FOR THE NEW BOOK!

  6. P.S. Thank you for quoting Chris Colfer in this post! You just made my daughter’s day, and mine – since I am one of your biggest fans, and she is one of his biggest fans.

  7. AWESOME, Pam! I Like this, because being excited comes easy!! Oh, and I’m very excited to read your new book!

  8. Hi Pam,
    I gotta say I love your brain and your mindset! This particular blog post has come at the most perfect time for me when I am struggling with all the pressures at work. So thank you Pam, thank you for getting me excited 🙂

  9. Thank you for your blogs Pam. I always look out for them on my email, they’re very enjoyable. You know Pam, I’ve been studying breath exercises from the Russian Breath Masters for a few years now, especially to help keep my sanity during high pressure life or death situations.

    You’re right when you say that anxiety or excitement are practically the same thing, they only differ on how the individual mentally defines his/hers emotional state.

    What I’m trying to say is that breath practice could but shouldn’t be to train one to cover up or beat down any emotion state. From where I stand, good breath training should allow it to be there as it is and at the same time cleanse you from the negative effects that kind of vibrational energy exerts on your mind, body and soul. Breathing should always be about freedom and relaxation. Not a lazy noodle like state of relaxation but a clear and vibrant inner and outer state of relaxation. They say your ability to relax shows your ability to trust yourself.

  10. It is amazing to listen to people, it is almost like they defeat themselves before they get started! your quote from “Brooks proved, by focusing deliberately on potential positive outcomes, you’re way more likely to achieve them” If we approaching our day, our tasks and our lives with excitement and anticipation we are way better off than saying I am nervous or anxious or worried! Getting people to change their thought pattern is very difficult, but I appreciate the reminder!

  11. Oh My Gosh! I feel like channeled you this week! My youngest daughter had tryouts for volleyball and her freshman orientation (first day in high school!) all this week. I could feel her nervous energy and wanted to help her. I told her when she noticed the nervous feeling instead of saying “I’m nervous” to herself she should say “Ooooh I am SO excited! Something great is going to happen for me!” I thought it was genius and loved that it just came to me from the ethers but she just responded with an eye roll. I later overheard her giving her friend the same advice! Ha! Caught her listening AND taking my advice! I will never let her know I know. 🙂 I love that we are on the same page You and I. I feel so aligned with greatness!

  12. Pam, thanks for the advice for anxiety. All this time I was trying to calm myself and my blood pressure shoots up even more! This happens whenever I go on a doctor’s appointment and in stressful situations

  13. Excited!!! But I’m often am when reading a Pam Grout Blog!! But really great reminder for us! Blessing to you as you finish your new book. I am looking forward to it!!

  14. Hi Pam,
    Just wanted to let you know that ever since I started the manifesting butterfly experiments,I just cannot go a day without seeing them!My mother decided that she would manifest sunflowers,and for some reason,we both cannot go a day without sunflowers popping up somewhere.
    I am beyond excited for your new book to come out!!
    Have an amazingly awesome day,Pam.

  15. Sometimes, I just need to do some binge reading on your blog…..LOL Thanks for all of the joy and positivity! Like the Pointer Sisters say, “I’m so excited and I just can’t hide it….”

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